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Taliban Say Negotiations With Iran 'Necessary'

Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai (R), head of the Taliban’s political council in Qatar, takes part in the multilateral peace talks on Afghanistan in Moscow, November 9, 2018. File photo

A spokesman for the Afghan Taliban says that negotiations between the militant group and Iran are “necessary.”

Spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid described the talks as a political conversation with a neighboring country. Speaking with the state-run Iran Labor News Agency (ILNA) on January 5, he said, "We should discuss the future of our country with Tehran in order to take positive steps toward strengthening friendship and peace on both sides."

He stressed that the group would keep its channels open to Iran.
The ultra-conservative Sunni group dispatched a delegation to Iran last week to meet with a group of Iranian diplomats led by Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi in Tehran.

Iran says the meeting aimed to promote peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban and that the Afghan government had been informed.
Following the talks, Araghchi traveled to Kabul to brief Afghan authorities on the meetings.

This is not the first time the Afghan Taliban have sent a delegation to Tehran. In 2015, a Taliban delegation based in Qatar and led by the head of the group’s political bureau, Tayyib Aqa, also visited the Iranian capital.

The secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, recently visited Kabul and said Tehran had held talks with the Taliban.

"We have a single leadership and policy, and therefore we are in contact with many neighboring and non-neighboring countries,” ILNA quoted Mujahid as saying. “Our contact with Iran is the same as that of other countries, and maintaining contact with Iran is very important to us.”

Previously, the Afghan Taliban had said the delegation’s aim was to discuss the future withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and regional stability.

“The delegation visited Tehran to share Taliban’s views on a ‘post-occupation’ scenario and establishment of peace and security in Afghanistan and the region with Iranian officials,” Mujahid said in a statement that reflected growing confidence among the Taliban for an imminent U.S. exit from Afghanistan.

The Taliban's talks in Tehran come amid repeated accusations by Washington that Iran is training and equipping the insurgents. Tehran has dismissed such allegations as unfounded.

In his interview with ILNA, Mujahid criticized the Islamic State (IS) militant group, saying it has "dangerous designs" for the region.

"Frankly, the Afghan people find IS’s beliefs problematic. IS does not observe any Islamic laws, and their beliefs have no roots in Islam or Shari’a," he said.

Mujahid also had strong words for the foreign forces currently deployed in Afghanistan. "If the Taliban concludes that Americans are not seeking to achieve peace through negotiations and do not withdraw their troops from Afghanistan, we will without doubt dispatch them with military force and during the intensification of jihad from Afghanistan," he said.

After weeks of Pentagon officials denying reports of a U.S. drawdown from Afghanistan, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence confirmed on January 4 that U.S. President Donald Trump is in “the process of evaluating” whether to withdraw troops from the war-torn country.

"The biggest issue that matters to us is the dismissal of U.S. troops. Of course, solutions have been considered, but the Americans have accepted that more talks are needed about how they will leave Afghanistan and that they will be followed up in the upcoming summit," Mujahid said.

"We have not stopped jihad and are still at war with the Americans, and on the other hand we recognize the government of national unity as a puppet of the United States," he added.

Mujahid did not rule out the possibility of the Taliban’s participation in Afghanistan's next election, but noted, "First of all, we believe that the occupation of Afghanistan by the United States must come to an end. The next step is to determine the structure of the political system that will eventually be voted for by the Afghans."